Rowan Shepherd is the 2021 Best Bars Toyota 86 champion
Rowan Shepherd has won the 2021 Best Bars Toyota 86 Championship after a mesmerising final race at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo.
Shepherd needed to finish second behind race winner Simon Evans and did exactly that, despite Evans trying everything he could to force attacks from third placed Brock Gilchrist and fourth placed Ronan Murphy to try and push Shepherd back to where he wouldn’t have enough points to beat Evans to the title.
Shepherd however, held on in style and took the title by just five points – his tally of 973 trumping Evans’ 968 after 15 hugely competitive races.
“There was so much going on in that race,” said the new champion afterwards. “Simon was doing everything he could to back me up and get another car in the middle of us. He did really well but we got there and that’s a credit to the team. On Friday we were nowhere, but we’ve managed to take the win overall.”
His chief title rival Ryan Wood held second early on in the race ahead of Shepherd, but any chance of taking the title was lost when contact forced his retirement late in the race. That meant third overall in the final standings.
In the first race on Saturday, Wood had reclaimed the series lead with victory over Shepherd after a spirited battle in a thrilling race.
The race lead swapped twice between the two season-long rivals, but it was Wood who raced home in the blue Wholesale Cars Direct TR86 to take victory by less than half a second from Shepherd. Ronan Murphy was a strong third while Simon Evans was eventually credited with fourth after John Penny was given a post-race penalty.
CareVets racer Brock Gilchrist took his first win in the Best Bars Toyota 86 Championship in the second race of the weekend on Sunday morning after on the road winner Justin Allen was penalised for a jump start.
Allen seemed to deliver the perfect race to secure his first win in the series, holding off Gilchrist, but his penalty eventually dropped him to fourth place.
Evans ended up second and Shepherd third giving them a good haul of points but a dramatic race for championship leader Wood saw him spin to the back after contact with Marco Giltrap. Despite a superb recovery drive back to seventh, he was destined to start the final race of the championship behind Shepherd on points. With one race to go it stood at 904 points for Shepherd, 894 for Wood and 893 for Evans.
With points scored over the weekend defining the final grid of the season, Shepherd was on pole position with Evans joining him on the front row in the Wet & Forget car. Wood lined up third for Wholesale Cars Direct, with Sunday morning race winner Gilchrist fourth in the CareVets TR86. Murphy in the Dayle ITM Racing TR86 and Justin Allen for NAPA Autoparts made up row three.
It was Evans who made the best start and he took a lead he was never to lose. He was doing everything he had to do by leading, but what mattered was what was happening behind him. Shepherd tucked in behind the leader at the start and tried to stay glued to his rear bumper, but on lap two a flying Wood found a way by, which put Evans into the championship winning position.
Shepherd had done the maths, however, and repassed Wood within a couple of laps. Wood fought back and looked threatening but it all started to unravel for the Wholesale Cars Direct racer when he took to the grass at the final corner on lap six. He went backwards after that, falling prey to Gilchrist and Murphy and then the rest before pulling off and retiring.
Evans meanwhile, was focussing on holding up Shepherd to try and bring Gilchrist and Murphy into play but Shepherd played his cards well and stayed on the bumper of the Wet & Forget car for the rest of the race, not giving an inch let alone enough space for either Gilchrist or Murphy to make a move. As the front four crossed the line overlapping it was Evans from Shepherd, Gilchrist and Murphy.